April is all about tulips, but to make the most of them, you must think
laterally and team them up with other plants that support and complement
their starring role. One of the easiest and most effective ways to
show off your prize tulips is to underplant them with seed-sown forget-me-nots. The frothy
pale blue of the annual forget-me-nots complements tulips of many different colours, but
goes particularly well with white, pale pink or lavender purple, as shown above, with a Great
Dixter combination of Tulipa ‘Combat’ and Myosotis ‘Bluesylva’.
Another easy bedfellow for tulips is honesty. It’s similar to forget-me-nots in that it’s easy to
grow from seed – although as it is biennial, it won’t flower until the second year. The purple of
Lunaria annua teams well with pinky-white Tulipa ‘Shirley’ or Tulipa ‘Purple Flag’, although the
honesty grows taller and can swamp the tulips if you don’t keep an eye on it. One of the most
refreshing combinations is variegated white honesty with Tulipa ‘Spring Green’, made even
more zingy with the addition of lime-green Euphorbia polychroma, one of the earliest to flower
in early spring. Other euphorbias to try with tulips are the low-growing E. cyparissias, or the
taller E. palustris, which makes a vibrant backdrop to tulips of all colours.
The wallflower is another good partner, with the advantage that you
can choose from a good range of varieties to colour match your chosen
tulips. You might choose a fiery combination like Tulipa ‘Ballerina’ and
Erysimum ‘Fire King’, as Sarah Raven has done at Perch Hill (pictured
right), or a more subtle pairing such as Tulipa ‘Angélique’ and Erysimum
‘Bowles’s Mauve’. And, of course, you don’t have to limit it to a marriage
of two. Have fun and throw in more varieties: how about tulips ‘Queen
of the Night’ and ‘West Point’ (darkest purple and brightest yellow) with
forget-me-nots and pale yellow Erysimum ‘Primrose Monarch’?
A final note: don’t just think about what might be flowering at the same
time – consider foliage, too. Following the example of Fergus Garrett at
Great Dixter, you could team tulips with lupins, which will flower later
but complement the tulips with their fresh, green palmate leaves – and
hide them when they are over.